Credit hours:

Course Summary

Navigating the child welfare legal system is perhaps one of the greatest challenges for foster parents, birth parents, and inexperienced caseworkers. Because legal systems vary significantly depending on county, state, and federal laws, navigating these judicial labyrinths can be disorienting, frustrating, humbling, and at times, deflating. When a child’s wellbeing and future are at stake, it can feel even more daunting. Caseworkers, attorneys (for birth parents, child welfare agencies, and the child/youth), juvenile court judges—all of whom represent state and/or county governments—make many, if not most of the otherwise “parental” decisions on behalf of the youth in care. Simply put, the government acts as a surrogate parent, and often case plans for youth and not with youth. These life altering/defining decisions are derived from a complex hodge-podge of legal matters, child welfare policy, rights and responsibilities, (alleged) expert opinion, and the youth’s “best interests.” With a broader and deeper understanding of court proceedings (especially from caseworker and birth parent(s) perspectives) and case planning, foster parents and youth alike can not only feel more informed (of their rights and responsibilities), but also more actively engaged in decision-making processes. This training serves as map, compass, and established route to better navigating the child welfare legal system. Because judicial systems are typically state-specific, most of the information within the module is federal in scope, and is provided courtesy of the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a congressionally mandated/funded information service between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration for Children and Families, and the U.S. Children’s Bureau.

In this course, you can expect to learn:

  • Develop a broader understanding of Child Welfare Legal System processes, procedures, and proceedings, and how to better navigate them 

  • Become more informed about parents’ and families’ legal rights and responsibilities

  • How to actively participate in child welfare court proceedings

Step 1 (30 min)

Understanding Child Welfare and the Courts - Families involved with the child welfare system must often engage with the judicial system. The court experience can be intimidating and/or overwhelming. This factsheet from the Child Welfare Information Gateway is designed to demystify the legal process and inform families of their rights and responsibilities. It also answers parent and caregiver concerns about the court process and provides resources regarding legal action and parental rights. Current and prospective foster parents will find this helpful as It includes frequently asked questions about the different stages of court proceedings, how birth parents, foster parents, and family members can prepare for court hearings, a glossary of court terms, and who and what to expect in the courtroom and throughout the process. - Child Welfare Information Gateway

Step 2 (8:50 min)

A Bit About Hearings - Watch this video to get “real world” advice from a foster mother with firsthand experience navigating the child welfare legal system.

Step 3 (20 min)

Please review this brief overview and flowchart of How the Child Welfare System Works, as well as this diagram of “Navigating The Courts” provided by FosterClub.

Step 4 (5 min)

Advice for Foster Parents in Child Welfare Court Hearings - Read these helpful tips from other foster parents and caseworkers on how to effectively participate in child welfare court proceedings.

Step 5 (15:13 min)

Make Your Voice Heard: A Guide to Dependency Court -  Watch this informational video hosted by Tammi, a foster care system alumni. The video provides a general overview of what a child welfare court hearing looks like, and how to better prepare for it. It explains the roles of those involved in a dependency hearing, while encouraging youth to actively participate in court. It also provides a brief reenactment of what a proceeding might look like in real time. Although the video represents Florida’s child welfare system, and each state’s judicial system varies slightly, the procedures and questions addressed are applicable to most child welfare courts.

Step 6 (5 min)

Join the Discussion in the comments below to answer the following question:

Why are parents and caregivers strongly encouraged to attend every child welfare hearing, and be well-prepared to share their story with the judge and the court?

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Course Discussion

kmccullough77's picture

kmccullough77 said:

Foster parents advocate for the child and their best interest. They are with the child more than anyone else and have pertinent information that could help the case go in the best interest of the child.
HeatherMBabb's picture

HeatherMBabb said:

How do I get my husband and I’d training certificate to send in?
mwt1011's picture

mwt1011 said:

Foster parents are able to advocate for their foster child during court and provide an unparalleled perspective into the child's life. By attending court proceedings they also stay up to date first hand on new court orders.
mballein's picture

mballein said:

Being involved helps everyone!
lerickson's picture

lerickson said:

Giving first hand experience helps fill in the gaps from the case worker if needed. Also gives the foster parent perspective as to how their child's case is going.
Tmpark_57's picture

Tmpark_57 said:

You have a perspective that nobody else has.
hudsonslater's picture

hudsonslater said:

The Judge may have the child's best interest in mind, however he will never understand all the nuances of the child's case from one or two hearings. Also, the caseworkers have large caseloads and may not know the individual needs of the child, and how they are faring in your care. It is important to be there to communicate these things to the Judge, and also to gather information that you may not get in any other settings.
jennifergoss07's picture

jennifergoss07 said:

They are an advocate for children in their care. Although there are other advocates in the court room, you truly know their day-to-day needs (like how to handle medical diagnoses).'s picture said:

Foster parents should always be present in court dates to support the child and parents.'s picture

mikenjulieclark... said:

Foster parents should be involved in all court procedures